This is the time of year when a lot of people make resolutions. This is the year to stop smoking/lose weight/learn how to ____/really dig into that TBR/etc. Speaking for myself, there’s always room for improvement, and it can help to set a goal or two and make plans to achieve them. I think it says something good about people when they see something they want to do better at, and resolve to accomplish just that. Of course, goal-setting doesn’t always work out the way we think it will, not in real life and not in crime fiction.
In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal), we meet Susan Banks. When her wealthy uncle Richard Abernethie dies, Susan is set to inherit a considerable sum of money, and she knows exactly what she wants to do with it. She is resolved to open her own business: a salon and beauty parlor. In fact, she approached her uncle about backing her venture, but he refused. Now, she’ll be able to pursue her goal, and that’s exactly what she sets out to do. Then, her aunt (and Abernethie’s sister) is murdered. Now, the family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, begins to suspect that Abernethie didn’t die naturally, and asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. Poirot agrees, and Susan is soon drawn into a murder investigation. Interestingly, she remains goal-oriented throughout the novel, continually making plans and working towards her dream.
Fans of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse know that he prefers a liquid lunch to actual nutritious food. And his meal choices aren’t exactly healthy, either. His doctors have made it clear that his drinking is having severe consequences (diabetes, liver problems, and so on), and Morse isn’t a stupid person. He knows the doctors are right. He does try to stop, or at least cut down, but it’s harder to actually do than to resolve to do. Morse’s case goes to show that if you’re going to keep a resolution, it’s got to be one you’ve made yourself – not someone else’s idea. There are plenty of other examples of sleuths who decide to stop drinking, with varying levels of success. I’m thinking, for instance, of Lawrence Block’s PI Matthew Scudder, and of Nicole Watson’s attorney protagonist, Miranda Eversley. In both of those cases, we see that the character decides to stop drinking for a particular reason, and takes the initiative to do so. It’s not easy for either character, and it adds to the stories to follow their growth.
One of the most popular resolutions people make at this time of year is to lose weight. That’s why gym memberships often increase so much in early January. We see that sort of goal in Ann Cleeves’ Silent Voices. Detective Inspector (DI) Vera Stanhope’s doctors have told her that she needs to lose weight and get into better physical shape. She knows they’re right, so she joins a gym. Stanhope resolves to lose weight, but she’s self-conscious about her appearance. She joins an out-of-town fitness club where no-one knows her, and she goes to the club early in the morning, when very few people are there. One morning, she goes to the steam room after her swim when she discovers the body of social worker Jenny Lister, who’s been strangled. At first, no-one seems to know who the dead woman is, but once she’s identified, Stanhope and her team get to work to find out who killed her.
Domingo Villar’s Water Blue Eyes introduces Leo Caldas, a Vigo police inspector. His job, of course, keeps him very busy. He also does a weekly radio call-in show to connect with local citizens who have questions or concerns. It all means he has very little free time, and an irregular schedule. He doesn’t get to see his ageing father and uncle as much as he’d like, and even when he does make plans for a visit, they sometimes have to be changed at the last minute. In Death on a Galician Shore, Caldas’ uncle needs to be taken to hospital. Caldas would like to visit him often, and resolves to spend more time with his family. It doesn’t always work out the way he’d like, but Caldas takes that resolution seriously. He wants closer ties with his father and uncle, and it’s interesting to see how he tries to keep that commitment.
Many people try to start the year on a positive note by reflecting and resolving to do better at something, or to make a positive change in their lives. That process can give a person a goal to work towards, and that in itself can be a good thing. It doesn’t always work out as planned, but it’s part of the human experience. Have you made resolutions for this new year?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Tom Green, Rich Tufo, and Lowrell Summon, made popular by The Impressions.